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Western Press Review: Russian Corruption, East Timor Violence

Prague, 2 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators in the Western press struggle with at least three varieties of responses to allegations of Russian diversion of foreign aid funds and other corruption: A. It's an outrage; B. It's old news; and C. The charges are a Western smear campaign.

KATHIMERINI: The scandal-mongering offers indirect political support to the center-left alliance

Greek commentator G. G. de Lastic, writing in Kathimerini, manages to take both positions "B" and "C."

De Lastic maintains that U.S. and European news organizations are rehashing old news about Russian corruption in order to support Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's bid to succeed Boris Yeltsin as president of Russia.

In his words: "It is almost certain that (Luzhkov) and former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, who is on good terms with the United States, will become the leading pair of Russia in the post-Yeltsin era, which is beginning now. This is the political message of the current campaign by the European and American press to belatedly disclose real economic corruption scandals involving Yeltsin and his aides. The scandal-mongering originating in the West offers indirect political support to the center-left alliance that Luzhkov concluded last month with Primakov, the governors of 20 Russian regions, the mayor of St. Petersburg, and the Agricultural Party -- which until recently cooperated with the Communists."

WASHINGTON POST: The accusers seek to besmirch our society

Washington Post staff writer David Hoffman writes about claims by Russian officials that the corruption allegations are part of a campaign against Moscow. In Hoffman's words, these claims "have been expressed across the board (in Moscow) in the last two weeks from Communists to reformers."

Typical, he says, are the remarks yesterday of Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in a speech to a group of diplomacy students. Hoffman quotes Ivanov as saying: "(The accusers seek) to besmirch our society, to besmirch our business community and our entrepreneurs."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Even 90 percent of the truth is far more than Russians are likely to hear any time soon

Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator Thomas Urban, in Moscow, takes position "A" and contends that a significant part of the outrage is the withholding of information from the Russian people.

He quotes a headline from Segodnya, Moscow, which he describes as "a newspaper for intellectuals." The headline reads: "90 Percent of the Truth." Urban says that State Prosecutor Georgy Chuglasov caused an international sensation Monday when he said this of the corruption charges: "At least 90 percent of the reports are true."

Urban adds, in his own words: "Even 90 percent of the truth is far more than Russians are likely to hear anytime soon."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Moscow must simply be dealt with on an equal basis

Berlingske Tidende, Denmark, takes a combined "A" and "B" stance in an editorial. It says this: "Western nations have independently and through the (International Monetary Fund) injected the equivalent of $80 billion into Russia over the last 10 years. The editorial says: "At the same time, the many Western donors have generally turned a deaf ear to the reports of widespread corruption and other [economic] crime in Russia."

The editorial says the West has given Russia a long leash so far. Berlingske Tidende contends, in the editorial's words: "Throughout the 1990s, Russia has been seen as a special case. However, the recent developments manifest that Moscow must simply be dealt with on an equal basis with other (recipients of foreign aid)."


The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Andreas Baenziger says today in a commentary from Singapore that pro-Indonesia militias have attacked the U.N. headquarters in East Timor's Dili, and engaged in other violence. This is hindering efforts to count votes from this week's referendum on East Timorese independence from Indonesia.

As Baenziger puts it: "The United Nations voiced disappointment at the inactivity of the Indonesian security forces and boosted the number of unarmed U.N. police and liaison officers. It can do no more, given that its mandate does not provide for the sending of armed peacekeepers."

NEW YORK TIMES: Indonesia remains officially responsible for security in East Timor

The New York Times, in an editorial, says this of the East Timor violence: "(U.S.) President (Bill) Clinton rightly warned (Indonesian President B.J.) Habibie last week that failure to control the militias would damage (U.S.-Indonesian) relations." The Times observes: "Whatever the results of the referendum, Indonesia remains officially responsible for security in East Timor for the next several months."

The editorial contends that Habibie must send, in the newspaper's words, "disciplined and reliable police and military forces into East Timor with orders to disarm the militias and see that the referendum results are carried out."

TIMES: Inequalities rather than cultural differences, are responsible for many of the so-called cultural clashes

The Times of London carries today a commentary by Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain, Ghazi Alogosaibi. It is adapted from a speech (date and venue not mentioned) Alogosaibi made entitled, "From the Clash of Civilizations to a Culture of Dialogue." The Saudi statesman argues that a disservice is done to hopes for constructive dialogue when mere political differences are piled together and labeled cultural barriers. Following are excerpts from Alogosaibi's remarks:

-- "Whenever a conflict is presented to you as a clash of cultures, show some skepticism and dig deeper. Take the heated topic of the clash between Islam and the West. For 'Islam' substitute 'some Muslim countries,' and for the 'West' substitute Tone or two Western powers.' Of 54 Muslim states, only a handful is in confrontation with fewer than a handful of Western states. In every single case, there are non-cultural factors."

-- "Iraq had no problems with the West until it invaded Kuwait. Iran enjoyed cordial relations with the West until it started exporting revolution. At one time the (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency) and Osama bin Laden were close collaborators in an anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan. When political differences emerged, cultural weapons were brought in to support the political struggle."

-- 'You can see similar examples all over the world. Catholics and Protestants don't fight in London or Dublin: they fight in Northern Ireland. Hindus and Muslims live with very little tension everywhere in the world except where political considerations prevail. Jews and Muslims enjoyed centuries of harmony until the Palestine issue arose."

-- "The 'West versus the rest' debate is the hottest item at this time. The whole edifice of international dialogue will fall if we don't intelligently manage this overriding issue. Let me state quite clearly that I believe in universal moral principles -- such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I think that the battle has been won. No serious thinker argues today that some cultures are inherently incapable of living up to the ideals of democracy, justice or dignity."

-- "It is my feeling that as the poorer countries develop the capacity to build schools, hospitals, roads, and get their economies going, and establish strong civil societies, we shall discover that the East and the West will become closer to each other. I am of the belief that inequalities rather than cultural differences, are responsible for many of the so-called cultural clashes."

(Alexis Papasotiriou and Anthony Georgieff also contributed to this report.)